The Ghost of Corona Future?

The bitter herbs of Passover Seders and the gall of the The Crucifixion Passion still grasp our collective imaginings, but nothing is more galling than the arrogance of ignorance in power and the willingness of so many of us to dance before false and gravestone images willfully misrepresenting the choices before us.

Are we truly compelled to choose between tyranny and chaos? Is one choice a dictatorship of inscrutable “experts” manipulating us into a bleak conformity for their own grim purposes? Could there be no alternative to that other than the untrammeled thrashings of millions of selfish wills celebrating crackpot interpretations of their various benighted ideas of “freedom”?

In the brightest of all pandemic scenarios, right wing operatives will soon be gleefully mocking all those dire projections from “expert institutions” like Columbia University and “McKinsey Capitalist Consulting” to claim this viral crisis was overblown for anti-American, liberal, socialist, globalist, elitist, managerial purposes. They will do so despite the trimp administration’s own projections currently forecasting at least 60 thousand deaths with trimp himself claiming anything less than 100k mortalities will represent a grand demonstration of his bold, skillful, and foresightful leadership. Nothing is more galling than the misuse of truth to deceive us and to also triumph malignantly over hope, caution, competence, and any awkward dreams of solidarity. And trimp dangles before his followers a glittering mirage of freedom expressed as the impunity to outrage delicacy, flout convention, despise complexity, and create an alternative universe of "facts" where smallness becomes greatness, cowardice becomes command, and ignorance becomes wisdom.

At the end of the Dickens classic, a grasping and desiccated Ebeneezer Scrooge is confronted with a devastating vision of his immediate future. Tremulously, he implores the implacable Spirit whether good works might alter the mortifying prophesy. Neoliberalism and other malignant forms of “conservatism” unceasingly tell us in all sorts of insidious way that there is nothing we can do to bend the curve toward justice. There is much in the current contagion that will bolster the power of their gloomy selfish claims. “No”, they will tell us, pretending to offer the best of all possible worlds, assuring us the “good people” have already grasped their “liberating truth”.

For ideologues in thrall to the plutocracy with all their privilege and greed, there is one Spirit that horrifies them most of all. The very same Spirit is a deadly menace to the dim ideas of those who, long ago (after untold agonies of rejections, betrayals, failures, and humiliations), rejected any prospect of quickening hope. This frightful Specter is the ghost of Karl Marx still proclaiming the most pernicious notion that we, even despite ourselves, make our own history. And, to an immeasurable but decisive extent, we do. We DO collectively make our own future; supported, propelled AND constricted as we are (in part) by our actions in the past and by the decisions, prejudices, folly, and heroism of our predecessors. Some of those follies, of course, were those of Marx himself and, even more so, of those who claimed his ideas, legitimately or not, as their inspiration.

As we are pressed into a future we are (in part) creating, we struggle to understand how our own projections, whether based on our best science or our most deceptive propaganda, will help to preserve what is best in us, as opposed to those which might condemn us to descend into deadly dystopias of ignorance, fear, and systemic cruelty. And our projections are affected by the spirits which animate us, inhibit us, petrify, or inspire us. 

Economics, dismal science that it is, has long recognized the importance of all sorts of projections. One of the most powerful types of economic projections are OUR informal expectations as we act as consumer or as investors. These expectations, exerting their inestimable influence on our activities at the micro level, have enormous implications for outcomes on the macro level. Economic expectations are the the emanations of the human spirit that often confound the projections of professional economists. Politics, legislation, and policies, with their often decisive impact on economies, have too long been shaped by those who fear and loathe the idea that popular movements can be a productive force. Even now, there are too many who are determined to undermine solidarity by shifting the responsibility for the current pandemic and its economic implications onto foreigners, immigrants, and the usual scapegoats of panicked racist and anti-Semitic prejudices. Idiots that they are, they forget their vast wealth is based on all manner of good faith even as they undermine the institutions and habits of mind that make operational our collective faith and credit. In the shadow of human induced climate change and the inevitability of new pandemics, a massive macro economic experiment is now being conducted. No doubt, in the past sobering recessions were inflicted upon us by the Federal Reserve, designed as they were, to combat inflation and discipline the work force. (That is “us”) But THIS shutdown is so very different in so many dimensions and on so many scales of magnitude. As we pause to successfully control the spread of infection, we are (with differing ends in mind) also planning for a new economy with, inevitably, a new set of winners and losers. This, in itself, is horrifying to some “conservatives.” In the meantime we will learn new lessons about what an economy is and how it works, just as we are relearning who actually make things work for everyone - and who are determined to make things work only for themselves. Only in wartime has our government put itself so deeply into debt. And clearly our current deadly conflict is bound to compel our government to dig even deeper into unfathomable sources of monetizable faith in our collective self. Except for the conflagration of World War II with its associated holocausts, wars have historically been followed by steep economic downturns. Depressions. In 1945, the United States escaped massive damage to its material infrastructure. This helped us avoid the projected slump by indulging in continued massive military expenditures, making weapons that were, to a merciful extent, never used to their full destructive capacity. (“Military Keynesianism” is a term often used to describe our current damning paradigm.) Those weapons, of course, are too often used to devastate peasant economies and  to support repressive regimes all over the globe, but they are arguably not the most potent instrument employed by our debased rulers to shape the global order. What's more potent is our economic might (and I do mean "OUR) and perhaps, even more, our culture onslaught which includes our highest ideals as well as our endless betrayals of the same. Now we MAY have the opportunity to help shape a new global economy in a new spirit, one that MIGHT be based on actual productivity beyond the narrow scope of human effort that can be directed toward the profit claimed by a tiny and idiotic minority. We will also learn new lessons about sovereign debt, credit, and our capacity to have faith in our future selves. Unfortunately the same pandemic, now fueling arguments and sentiments for solidarity and equality, is also a fierce engine for their counter forces. It is too much to hope that the 45% of solid support for the clownish imbecile in the White House will be eroded to any significant degree by what is happening now and what might happen in the immediate future. The harsh experiences of failure, foreclosure, and dislocation caused by the economic collapse of 2008 helped generate the Tea Party and its most poisonous outgrowth so far, trimpulism. And now, shuddering levels of grief are being laden onto extended periods of fear and uncertainty. The prolonged social and physical isolation, the unaccustomed downtime breeding new opportunities for reflection and brooding, and the strange emergence of new affinities supported by internet technology are working together to form new cultural realities. No doubt all this is brewing new coalitions, new imaginings, new resentments, new loyalties, and new resolves that might even lead to an increase in trimpulist style intransigence. The future does not inevitably take that course. But it might. Forty-five percent! It’s sobering to remember that Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party never won more than 40% in any quasi-legitimate election. But wasn’t that MORE than enough? In the coming months and years we will be confronted by so many new choices. The election in November will surely be a crucial turning point. Hopefully, maturity and forward thinking will triumph over resentment, frustration, and any festering sentiments of fatalism. Hopefully, people will take their vote very seriously as one step in a very long process of liberating ourselves from our own inclinations to exploit and dominate each other. Hopefully we will take care to nurture what type of spirit we project and what manner of spirits we encourage and celebrate. Hopefully or not, we have to choose. The arc of history is a curve which potentates and demagogues will always try to twist to their absurd purposes. Sometimes they, more than we, are irately aware that it is one which we together can bend toward justice, equality, and decency. It is also one we can allow to thrash or surge in strange and painful directions, just as conflicting spirits contend, in dubious battle. within ourselves. This cup will not pass. Our epitaph is etched into nightmarish gravestones rolling out before us in endless dark rows of bleak Dickensian fantasy. We CAN try to rewrite it. Because if we don't TRY, who will ever bless us, and what would it ever mean?

Joe Panzica (Author of Democracy STRUGGLES! and Saint Gredible and Her Fat Dad's Mass.  He is currently working on his second novel I Wanna Be Evil.

"STUPIDITY" - the tendency for negative emotions (fear, anger, GREED, etc.) to twist intelligence into something self defeating - or harmful to others. ("The more raw intelligence, the more capacity for frustrating or destructive stupidity!") "IDIOCY" - a special kind of stupid characterized by selfish refusal to recognize human interdependence and civic responsibilities (including, but not limited to voting and taxes).